Showing posts with label Airline Reviews - Toronto-Tel-Aviv Routes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Airline Reviews - Toronto-Tel-Aviv Routes. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Brussels Air and Air Canada: Tel-Aviv to Toronto

In my never ending search to find the best way to fly back and forth between Tel-Aviv and Toronto, I tried something different. Using Expedia, I put together a mix and match flight. I flew from Tel-Aviv to Toronto via Brussels, with a direct flight back to Tel-Aviv on Air Canada.

As I have explained previously, Air Canada only offers three flights a week from Tel-Aviv to Toronto. All three flights leave around 12:30 p.m. and arrive in Toronto around 6:30 p.m. That means 12 1/2 hours of daytime flying time on route back. Secondly, they currently fly on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. For me, that leaves Monday or Thursday, neither of which are particularly appealing. It would be much better if they were to fly direct on Saturday and Sunday night from Israel to Canada. But the only Star Alliance partners to offer this alternative are Continental and US Air, and the fares for these flights are often significantly higher.

So I took this crazy flight. It left Tel-Aviv on a Saturday night around 1:20 a.m. That part of it was fine. We arrived in Brussels at about 5:10 a.m. The plane was comparable to Austrian Air's service between Tel-Aviv and Vienna. They had wafer thin chairs cramped closely together. No in-flight entertainment of any kind. And of course, since airlines are now charging for baggage, the passengers all tried to cram as much luggage as they possibly could into the passenger compartment.

I had ordered a Kosher meal and I was served a sandwich of questionable origin and unidentifiable content. But I wasn't particularly hungry at 2:30 a.m. anyways, so it wasn't a big deal. The flight was uneventful and arrived slightly early in Brussels.

I have to say that I enjoyed the Brussels airport. I found it to have a "warmer" feel than the airports in Frankfurt or Vienna. There was a decent lounge, equipped with a nice espresso machine and a selection of croissants. The staff were quite friendly and ensured that I had internet access and the right adapter for the electrical sockets. The difficulty was that the lay over time between flights was 5 hours. So I wound up having to spend about 4 hours in the Brussels airport lounge and the various duty free shops.

On a positive note, the prices in the duty free shops were quite reasonable. They had some great chocolate and a nice selection of single malts. But 5 hours is an excessive time to have to wait for a connection.

The flight back to Toronto was an Air Canada flight which left Brussels at about 10:20 a.m. Its route included a stop in Montreal, which added yet another irritating layer to this flight schedule.

I was lucky enough to get an upgrade so I managed to sleep for a while during the course of this 8 1/2 hour flight. The only complaint I have about this part of things relates to the food.

I had ordered the Kosher meal. This was singularly the most horrible airplane meal I have ever ever had the misfortune of receiving. First, the staff brought out a tray with three small plastic containers, each with an aluminum seal. The first container was a tuna fish compound. I have no idea what was mixed with the tuna or how long ago the atrocity took place. It came with three large crackers. I had a quick sniff and tasted a tiny flake of it. There was no way I was going to eat this stuff.

The second container was labeled tapioca. It was easily as offensive and even less edible than the first container. So now I'm 0 for 2.

Container number three contained red, super sweet, apple sauce. Perhaps it had been mixed with raspberry flavouring or maybe it was just red dye. I"ll never know. I only know that it was not something anyone other than a three month old baby would really want to consider eating.

Finally, the piece de resistance arrived, the hot component of the meal. Lucky me, I was finally going to get something to eat. When I opened the multi-layered aluminum sealant, I found something that resembled a big square hunk of meat loaf. But it didn't look or feel like beef. It might have been chicken... though it had the texture of tofu. In any case, it was simply rancid.

I note that I had asked the staff if there was any chance of getting the regular European Sea Bass meal - or the vegetarian lasagna. Both were sold out and I couldn't eat the chicken or beef alternatives. So I was left struggling with this grotesque culinary faux-pas.

With about two hours left in the flight, the attendant came around and served, believe it or not, a second helping of the entire first meal, minus the simulated meat loaf. Great way to lose some weight.

On arriving in Montreal, we had to take everything off the plane, collect luggage, pass through immigration and customs and then wait for about another hour and a half to get back onto the plane. I finally arrived in Toronto at about 3:20 p.m., having left for the airport in Tel-Aviv approximately 24 hours earlier.

Overall, this was less than an ideal way to fly, though it was certainly inexpensive. And despite the length of the flight, it was probably still more enjoyable then flying through Vienna or Frankfurt, both of which mean getting to the airport in Tel-Aviv at 3:30 a.m. and still arrive in Toronto at about the same time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

United Airlines - Tel-Aviv to Toronto via Newark Update

I flew back from Israel to Toronto on United Airlines (formerly Continental Airlines) recently and I wanted to add a bit more information about that flight. I wrote a blog about this in October(Continental: Tel-Aviv to Toronto via New Jersey - Review) Tel-Aviv and much of that blog is still relevant. But I thought I would add a few points, some of which might be repetitive.

First of all, one of main reasons for choosing United is that the flight times are much better than those of Air Canada. United leaves Tel-Aviv at 11:10 p.m. and arrives in Newark, New Jersey at about 4:30 a.m. There is a 6:20 connecting flight to Toronto, which arrives in Toronto about 7:45 a.m. If you can sleep on the plane, it's a lot better than spending all day from 12:30 p.m. (Israel time) to 6:30 p.m. (Toronto time) on the plane. It's very hard to get any sleep at all on these flight times.

Secondly, United is a full partner with the Aeroplan program. So you get the full points that you would have had if you had flown with Air Canada - even the bonus points. If you are Elite or Super Elite, you can access the lounge in Newark, get priority backage handling and priority boarding. The main drawback is that you cannot get an upgrade using the Air Canada eupgrades system. There is a way to use Aeroplan points to buy an upgrade but it is apparently very limited.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, United (still flying as Continental in my last blog about them), has an excellent personal entertainment system. It includes a huge selection of audio recordings, new and old as well has a huge selection of movies, new and old. It also has a pretty decent selection of games that you can play at no additional charge. Unlike Austrian Air's circa 1970s "Space Invaders," the games on United are pretty decent. Just don't forget to bring your own headphones or you will be nickel and dimed into paying a few dollars for a set. You will also have to pay if you want wine, beer or any other alcohol at any time during the flight. If you are looking for some free drinks on a flight, for now you have to stick to Air Canada or the European airlines.

Leaving Israel, you cannot buy any duty free alcohol, perfume, liquid or gels and take it on the plane with you if you are travelling to the U.S. This applies even if you are not transferring - just taking a direct flight. This time I read the sign and didn't buy anything. But many others must have missed the sign. There was quite a bit of commotion at the check-in counter as departing passengers fought with staff over whether they could board the plane with duty free items or surrender the items for confiscation. At the gate, staff were not conducting full bag inspections but were asking passengers "do you have any duty free or liquids or gels?" I'm not counseling any violations of law but it seems to me there must have been some passengers who purchased duty free and simply put it in their knapsacks and said "no" when asked the question. This is probably risky, since the duty free shop enters the ticket information when it sells the merchandise. All in all, it looks mainly like a protectionist measure to me, aimed at getting passengers to buy from the U.S. airlines on-board duty free shops.

The flight itself was fine, for a twelve-hour flight. The Kosher meal that I had was probably slightly better than its Air Canada counterpart. It looked like some kind of meatballs made out of chicken on a bed of curried rice but I can't really be sure. It was heated up properly and accompanied by some fresh fruit and a stale roll.

The real hassle with this flight is the changeover in the U.S. Arriving in Newark, you have to go through U.S. customs and immigration, pick up your luggage and then bring it to a check-in station. If you have a Nexus/GOES system pass, the customs and immigration line-up can be cleared very quickly. If you don't, you could be waiting for quite a while. After that, you have to take a train from terminal C to terminal A. The trains come quite quickly and are reasonably convenient. The third part of the process is going back through U.S. airport security to get to the departure gates. Here, there is no special line-up for frequent flyers, business class or people who just have a good contact (the quick way to get through security in Israel) everyone has to get in a very long line. As in other U.S. security locations, you have to take off your shoes, your belt and anything else you might be wearing that might have any metal in it. The process takes so much longer than Israeli security and my guess is that the U.S. airport security is much less effective.

The price was similar to other airlines. You can mix and match on-line and fly one way via the U.S. and the other way direct. This is a decent option. For example, you can fly to Toronto from Tel-Aviv overnight on either United Airlines or U.S. Air and then fly back on Air Canada, which is also an overnight flight. The U.S. Air flight is somewhat more comfortable than United Airlines but Continental provides more Aeroplan points.

The connecting flight from Newark to Toronto is only about an hour long. Our flight was delayed about an hour, which is probably a reasonably short delay for wintertime, even though there was no snow anywhere. Delays like this can always happen and are one of the drawbacks of a stopover rather than a direct flight.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Aeroplan Changes for 2012-13: Elite Status is being Downgraded

Air Canada’s Aeroplan has announced significant changes to its frequent flyer program for the 2012-13 year. The gist of the changes is that benefits are being scaled back significantly for “Elite” Aeroplan travellers.

One of the great things about flying Air Canada between Tel-Aviv and Toronto was the fact that you could gain “Elite” Air Canada status with just about 3 round-trip flights. Up until now (and until February 28, 2013), this has meant a number of great benefits – including being able to check 3 bags, access to lounges around the world, and, most importantly, being able to upgrade to business class, subject to availability, from any fare.

These “Elite” benefits meant that Air Canada flyers that flew 35,000 miles in a year would be treated as “Gold” card holders across the Star Alliance system, which includes Lufthansa, Austrian, Continental, United, US Air and many other airlines.

Apparently, some of the other airlines were not too happy with this since it meant that it was easier to qualify for this Gold status on Air Canada than on other Star Alliance members. So, Aeroplan has now released information about a range of changes. For the 2012-13 year, the “Elite” flyers with 35,000 miles will be downgraded to “Silver” status. They will lose automatic international lounge access and will no longer be able to upgrade on international travel to business class from low cost fares. Lounge access will still be available as an option at the expense of other benefits.

Aeroplan has added in two new classifications to replace the 35,000 category. Members accumulating 50,000 miles (4.5 round trip flights between Toronto and Tel-Aviv) will be treated as “Gold” and will get lounge access and the ability to upgrade, even on international flights. The main benefit they will lose, which the “Elite” members previously had, is getting a bonus of 1.5 Aeroplan miles for each mile flown. Members earning 75,000 miles (a bit less than 7 trips) will more or less be treated the same way as Elite members are being treated until February 28, 2012.

Overall, it appears that people with 35,000 miles a year will now need to travel about 75,000 miles a year to get all the same benefits. The 100,000 mile travellers (“Super Elite”) will still be treated the same as will the 25,000 mile travellers. For anyone travelling back and forth to Israel less than 5 times in a year, this will make Air Canada somewhat less attractive than it is currently. When combined with the fact that all of Air Canada’s 12 hour return trips to Toronto from Tel-Aviv leave at 12:30 p.m. (rather than in the evening), it may be worthwhile to reconsider El Al or some other options with a stopover such as Continental or US Air. For now, Air Canada and El Al still provide free headphones and free wine (Kosher and non-Kosher on Air Canada), which is something the U.S. airlines no longer include but this will probably be changing shortly as well.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Continental Air Lines - Tel-Aviv to Toronto

I tried flying Continental Air Lines on my most recent flight from Tel-Aviv back to Toronto.

The flight time was a key consideration. The flight leaves Tel-Aviv at about 11:00 p.m. and arrives in Newark, New Jersey around 4:30 a.m. (EST). There is a 6:30 a.m. connection to Toronto which means that that the flight arrives in Toronto at about 8:00 a.m. These flight times are similar to US Air times (via Philadelphia). I find it much better to fly at night. Air Canada's direct flights back to Toronto from Tel-Aviv all leave at 12:00 p.m. and arrive in Toronto at 6:00 p.m. For various reasons, which I have written about in other blog posts, I'm not very happy about these all day flights. With Continental (now also called United - since the two merged), you can even fly from Tel-Aviv to Toronto via the U.S. at night and then fly back from Toronto to Tel-Aviv on Air Canada direct at night. The price is very similar to flying both ways on Air Canada.

The Continental flight was quite decent. The flight left on time. The airplane was clean and looked fairly new. It seemed to be well kept. The personal entertainment systems were among the best I've seen. There was an enormous selection of music with hundreds of CDs. There was also an enormous selection of movies.

A major benefit of flying Continental for Air Canada Aeroplan Elite or Super Elite members is that you get the same bonus points as if you were flying Air Canada itself. So an Elite traveller can get about 18,000 points for a round trip flight between Toronto and Tel-Aviv. A super elite traveller can get about 23,000 points. No other airline (other than Air Canada) offers this benefit for this route.

Like other U.S. airlines, Continental charges for extra baggage (meaning more than one suitcase) and charges for everything from headphones to alcoholic beverages. The staff, like other U.S. airlines, are somewhat aloof. This is not the personal interaction that you can get with El Al nor is it even as friendly as Air Canada. At best, you could call it organized and competent, if somewhat stingy.

On arrival in New Jersey from Tel-Aviv, all passengers must clear U.S. customs and collect their baggage to be handed back for check-in just after customs clearance. Here it is a great benefit to have a Nexus card and bypass the lengthy customs line-ups. Otherwise you could be waiting for a quite a while in an immigration/customs line-up.

There is an airport shuttle that runs from the arrival terminal (Terminal C) to the departure terminal (A) but this was reasonably convenient, even if not marked particularly well. Unfortunately, there was no access to duty free since the duty free shops only open at 6:30 a.m. and the plane from Newark to Toronto left at 6:30 a.m. It is worth pointing out that you can buy duty free items in Tel-Aviv and then put them in your suitcase after you pick the suitcase up in Newark before sending it along to Toronto. However, you have to pay the prices of the Israeli duty free shops where are not necessarily that reasonable. Unlike the connection through Philadelphia, you have to clear personal security again after landing so that adds to the line-up time and inconvenience factor.

Overall, the flight was fine and was probably a decent option for Aeroplan members looking to take a night flight from Israel to Toronto though there is no easy way to upgrade to business class from economy. The availability of upgrades is still one of the best reasons to fly Air Canada between Toronto and Tel-Aviv along with the general convenience of a direct flight.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

U.S. Air - Toronto to Tel-Aviv via Philadelphia

I wound up with another Toronto to Tel-Aviv flight on US Air via Philadelphia. The flight is not bad – and it is probably better than some of the other alternatives if you cannot take a direct flight on Air Canada or El Al.

Leaving Toronto from Terminal 1 is not too bad. However, since you have to make a connection through Philadelphia, you have to clear U.S. customs at Pearson Airport. This can add quite a bit of time. If you are going to do this often, it is probably a good idea to get a Nexus pass and bypass most of the line-up. Otherwise, allow for some extra time and patience to clear U.S. customs and immigration.

The Toronto to Philadelphia leg is operated by Air Wisconsin. It’s a small plane and the ride is only about 1 ½ hours. Since you have already cleared U.S. customs – at least on the way to Tel-Aviv – the baggage is checked right through. On arrival in Philly, there is a shuttle bus to take passengers from the remote Terminal F to International Terminal A. Fortunately, if you take the shuttle, you do not have to clear general airport security a second time. The connection is decent with about a two hour holdover time.

At Terminal A in Philly, you do have a special gate for Tel-Aviv passengers with an additional security layer – much like the change-over in Frankfurt (via Lufthansa) or in some other cities.

I managed to stop at the Envoy lounge before heading to the secondary Israel-only security. The lounge offered free wi-fi and some fruit and cheese along with a choice of drinks. It was comfortable enough but the food was quite limited.

The actual flight from Philly to Tel-Aviv is about 10 hours. The crew were reasonably efficient but somewhat aloof. US Air, like many of the other U.S. airlines is pretty cheap with its passengers. They charge for alcoholic beverages (unlike El Al or Air Canada - for now, anyways). $7 for a glass of Chilean wine, which is probably the cost of the whole bottle, if it is even that expensive. The plane, an Airbus 330, is equipped with personal video screens, music, games etc., U.S. Air charges $5 for a pair of headphones if you have not brought your own. If you are flying often, noise-cancelling headphones are indispensible, so I woudn’t have used the U.S. Air cheapo air buds, even if they were free.

I tried to buy a duty free item on board. I asked for the Johnnie Walker Blue Label, which was listed at a great price. I was told that they usually have only one, maybe two bottles per flight and they sell them out in business class. Same story for the cognac and premium Vodka (Grey Goose). So don’t count on being able to buy anything from the U.S. Air duty free service, even though the catalogue has a reasonable selection.

For me, the main reason for taking this flight was the timing. It left Toronto at 6 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. which gave me an extra hour that I really needed as compared to Air Canada. As well, the flight back from Tel-Aviv leaves Israel at 11:15 p.m. or so, giving you a night flight rather than Air Canada’s dreaded all day flight back from Israel.

Since U.S. Air is a Star Alliance partner, you can still get Aeroplan points and get all the perks of elite/super-elite status except for the upgrades. It’s certainly not as convenient as a direct flight but Air Canada’s schedule is not as good as either U.S. Air or El Al. The problem with El Al is that the Matmid program (El Al’s frequent flyer program) can’t begin to compete with Aeroplan, at least under current rules. So if you flying Toronto to Tel-Aviv and you can’t take Air Canada because of bad timing, your next best choice is to fly Continental or U.S. Air if you still want full points. With some of the other airlines, like Lufthansa or Austrian, you might only get half the points.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Air Canada Business Class - Tel-Aviv-Toronto

Flying a great deal between Tel-Aviv and Toronto, I have been writing some blogs assessing the various flight options – and comparing the services. After doing this for more than a year and a half – I am hard pressed to conclude that anyone can compete with Air Canada on this route.

Air Canada offers regular service between Toronto and Tel-Aviv and competes in that regard only with El Al, Israel’s national airline. Otherwise, you have to change planes in the U.S. or somewhere in Europe.

Starting with economy class, Air Canada comes out quite ahead. Each seat includes a personal screen, an electrical outlet and a USB connection. Although Air Canada does not currently offer internet service on its transatlantic flights (like Lufthansa) – the range of music, video and TV programming is extensive. Although I enjoy the Israeli music on El Al – the sound quality is horrible – and the selection is limited.

The main advantage of flying Air Canada is the Aeroplan program. For a flight between Toronto and Tel-Aviv – you earn approximately 11,500 Aeroplan points. For 15,000 points, you can get a ticket between Toronto and other “short-haul” destinations – such as New York, Chicago, St. Louis (the boundary). For 25,000 points – you can get a ticket from Toronto to anywhere in North America (with payment of a range of ever increasing “fuel surcharges” and taxes).

But more significantly – for 35,000 points – just over 3 flights a year between Israel and Toronto – you can get “Elite” status – which entitles you to free upgrades to first class – subject to availability.

I have been upgraded on a number of occasions over the past year and a half or so – and I have to say – I have never been on better flights.

The seats fold down into completely horizontal beds. They have a mini-barrier – that is almost like a wall for privacy. You have an electrical outlet, a USB Port and your own personal movie and music entertainment system. Unlike Austrian Air – you do not have computer games (chess, space invaders etc.,) but I’ll take the trade-off.

The staff members are exceptional.

Though I ordered a kosher meal, I was prepared to enjoy the special business class dish of pacific salmon with wild rice and grilled zucchini and asparagus. It was preceded by a traditional salad. For dessert – I was given a choice of chocolate molten lava cake or mixed fruit (or both). I was also offered cognac – and a special California Cabernet Sauvignon – which I quite enjoyed.

The main flight attendant assisting me on my most recent flight – was quite friendly. He told me he was proficient in Hebrew, English, French, Spanish, German and Italian – and was now learning Arabic. He could also serve passengers in Yiddish. He was quite polite and readily available – generally a pleasure to have such a competent steward.

The only drawback to Air Canada flights – and it is significant – is that the flights are scheduled as daytime flights from Israel to Toronto. It is a 12 ½ hour flight – leaving Israel at 12:30 p.m. and arriving in Toronto at 5:30 p.m. Toronto time. This kind of flight can really ruin your schedule.

I much prefer the El Al flight times – leaving at about 1 a.m. on Saturday night – and arriving in Toronto at about 6 a.m. El Al’s security is also formidable – as is the patriotic lure of supporting the Jewish State’s national airline. However – the “Matmid” – loyalty program – is terrible compared to Air Canada – and the airplane amenities are sorely lacking. On the positive note – you can sometimes get an El Al ticket for hundreds of dollars cheaper than Air Canada – so these are all considerations that have to be weighed). As mentioned above, I also enjoy the music selection on El Al and the general feeling of being “at home.”

However, for now – I need about 50,000 more points to achieve Air Canada’s “Super Elite” status – and it seems to be a worthy goal – even if I get there by flying cheaper partner airlines like Lufthansa, Austrian Air, US Air (via Philadelphia) or Continental (Via New Jersey). Using the Air Canada entertainment system, I listened to Rush’s Moving Pictures (what a great album! I probably hadn’t listened to it cover to cover in more than 20 years), Eric Clapton – Unplugged, Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Neil Young’s Greatest Hits. Together with some cognac – and extremely helpful staff – it is hard to imagine a better way to travel the 12 ½ hours back to Canada from Israel.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Austrian Airlines - Toronto-Tel-Aviv

I tried a different way of travelling between Tel-Aviv and Toronto - and flew Austrian Airlines for a change. Part of the schedule suited my needs - and the available ticket was about $500 less than an Air Canada seat - while still providing Aeroplan points (at 1/2 the normal accumulation rate).

The flight between Tel-Aviv and Vienna is a 3 1/2 hour flight - on a relatively new looking remodeled interior Airbus plane. The seats are paper-thin - which means that you wind up with a bit more leg room - even though the plane was extremely full. Otherwise, the seats are not particularly comfortable. The plane was equipped with overhead screens used for showing some silent films - no music or headphone jacks - since the flight was so short. Overall, the flight was probably a bit more comfortable than the comparative Lufthansa flight between Frankfurt and Tel-Aviv.

One of the difficulties - if you are not staying in Europe - is the timing. The flight leaves at 6:30 a.m. from Tel-Aviv - so you have to be at the airport between 4 and 4:30 a.m. This is bound to throw your schedule off completely if you are continuing on to North America.

On arrival in Vienna - the gate for travelling to Toronto was right next to the arrival gate - almost as though they are purposely trying to get the Toronto-Tel-Aviv traffic.

At Israeli duty free- I had been told that European airports were now allowing passengers to take duty free items through to Canada and other places (still not the U.S.). So I picked up a bottle of wine in Israel. When I got to Vienna and had to pass through personal security - I was told I could not take the bottle. It was in a sealed duty free bag - stapled shut - and I had just come off a plane from Israel - with some of the world's highest security. Nevertheless - they said - only duty free purchases from other EU countries could be taken on the plane. Imagine - right behind me was a guy from Poland - who was flying LOT Air. He gets to take his bottle on board - but I can't take mine - after coming through Israeli Airport security (which I'm sure must be at least as thorough as Polish security...) Ultimately - under the guise of security - the EU is using this as a way of forcing transferring passengers to buy from European duty free shops - rather than elsewhere. It is simply a trade embargo/tariff mechanism rather than a security measure.

I guess I have to mention that the prices for Scotch and some other liquors were quite good in the Vienna duty free shops - somewhere around 1/2 the price of equivalent products in Canadian or Israeli duty free shops...I guess that could be the good side of a stopover - but since you are really only allowed one bottle anyways - it's really small consolation.

Getting on the plane in Austria was reminiscent of boarding in Israel - a complete "balagan" - as they say in Hebrew - a mess. No organized line ups - just an overcrowded waiting area - with hoards of travellers thronging towards the boarding gate. I've heard people complain about EL Al flights but really this was no better.

The plane itself was a 767 - with an interior that looked like it was circa 1970s. Each seat was equipped with a video screen/ music entertainment system including games - but the game selection included Space Invaders and Mini-Golf - that seemed like 1st or 2nd generation video games. The seat upholstery was a horrible shade of green - and also looked like it hadn't been updated since the plane came into service.

I had ordered a kosher meal - and have to say that it was among the worst I have had. It was prepared in Vienna - and included some type of chicken - or at least something purporting to be chicken - with mashed potatoes. The accompanying bread roll was frozen - as was the chocolate dessert. The other stuff was inedible.

About 2 hours before the end of the flight - they served another meal. Again the roll was frozen. There was no hot component to the meal. Just some chopped tomato and cucumber - with Humus. Really lame.

Since the flight was an all day-time flight - just about 9 1/2 hours - it was quite long. In fairness - it was smooth and uneventful - announcements were all made in German and in English - but the combination of the Vienna airport, the original departure time of 6:30 a.m. - and the general feel of the flight - make this a fairly challenging experience.

I think I will do my best to stick to Air Canada, US Air - or even EL Al (which as the best flight times) - rather than doing this too often. There is definitely benefit to avoiding a change over in a European airport - and to having better departure times - though sometimes a huge price savings can be a significant factor.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lufthansa: Toronto to Tel-Aviv via Frankfurt

Flying from Toronto to Israel on Air Canada on a Thursday night? You will wind up with a stopover in Frankfurt. The wait time in the Frankfurt airport is about 3 hours. The flight arrives at in Frankfurt at 7 a.m. and leaves for Tel-Aviv at 10 a.m. You have to switch over to a Lufthansa plane for the 3.5 hour flight from Frankfurt to Tel-Aviv.

The Air Canada leg of the trip was great. Comfortable seats – a decent amount of room, personal video screens and entertainment systems…all around a fairly smooth trip.

The transition to Lufthansa in Germany was also reasonably smooth. Your baggage can be checked right through without any need to go and collect it for the transfer. The walk from one gate to the other is quite long – but that is probably not too different from any other major airport.

You have to pass through extensive personal security – including full pat downs for all passengers. You then have to go through special additional personal security set up at gate C13 – only for flights to Israel.

The actual Lufthansa plane – well that was quite uncomfortable. We were seated 10 across – in a 3-4-3 configuration – with what seemed like much less room. No personal entertainment system, very little leg and seating room - and overall- the feel of a very cramped ride. Fortunately it was only 3.5 hours.

The staff were reasonably attentive – considering the number of passengers they had to manage. They passed by quite a number of times ready to offer hot and cold drinks – wine, liqueurs – even cognac – as well as a hot meal.

We would have arrived about 10 minutes early – but spent some time circling in the Mediterranean to avoid being ahead of schedule. On arrival in Tel-Aviv – things were also reasonably smooth – though no one seemed to bother to unload priority baggage first.

Probably the best think about the transfer was the great prices in the Frankfurt duty free shop – a wide ranging selection of scotch and other drinks – all much cheaper than the duty free shops in Toronto or Tel-Aviv.

The Frankfurt lounge was also decent – featuring a really nice espresso machine – but – on the cheap side – you have to pay if you want wireless internet service.

It’s obviously much better to fly direct – though if you want to fly direct on a Thursday night – you are limited to El Al – which means leaving earlier in the day – and no Aeroplan points. Another option is to fly through Philadelphia on US Air – which is not a bad option – though it still involves a stopover.

The option of transferring through Frankfurt can wind up saving as much as $500 – so sometimes it might be worthwhile to put with 3.5 hours of discomfort…

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Air Canada or El Al?

Over the past year or so, I have flown a number of times between Toronto and Israel on both Air Canada and El Al - the only two airlines that currently fly direct between these two cities.

While there are positives and negatives about each - here are a few comments.

Aeroplan (Air Canada's loyalty program)is a huge plus in favour of Air Canada. You can collect more than 10,500 points on a round trip flight - 2/3 of the way to a short haul ticket. After just about 3 flights in a year - you get upgraded to Elite Status - and you wind up with a range of benefits - including being able to take 3 bags instead of 2, bypassing most line ups, and getting some upgrade certificates. Many of these benefits can be used with any Star Alliance airline - not just Air Canada. El Al's loyalty plan, "Matmid" is much more limited, has fewer partners, and generally requires you to fly much more often to obtain the benefits of the program. You even have to pay to join it!

Air Canada has personal video/tv screens on its Toronto-Tel Aviv route - with a wide selection of movies and audio entertainment. The seats feel more comfortable and the overall experience is somewhat more easy going. El Al has a few portable units available for rent on each flight - but most passengers are stuck trying to watch the communal movie.

El Al currently has much better flight times. You can leave Israel late at night - just before or just after midnight, depending on the time of year - and sleep for most of the 12 1/2 - 13 hour flight. Flying from Toronto to Israel, you can also fly in the early or late evening. This is a huge plus for El Al - since the flight times also affect how easily you can adjust between time zones. Air Canada recently changed its flight times to travel at 12:45 p.m from Israel for all of its flights. This means a 13 hour, daytime flight. It makes for a very long day.

El Al has its own security system, which is generally more sensible, thorough and comforting than that of any other airline. Recently, Air Canada added in supplementary security for flights leaving Toronto to Tel Aviv - but the advantage here goes to El Al.

Pricewise - they are usually about the same - though occasionally you can find a better deal with one or the other which can make a difference of as much as $500.

With El Al, all the food is Kosher. So if you are interested in a Kosher meal, the food is more likely to be fresh, properly cooked and properly thawed - than Air Canada - where you usually wind up with frozen fruit pieces for breakfast.

In the area of "intangibles" - well it's Canadian service versus Israeli. Air Canada would probably be more attentive and polite; El Al - less formal - and sometimes friendlier - though often much less attentive.

One other option (aside from the various flights available with transfers in Europe and New York) is to fly through Philadelphia with US Air. You can still get the Aeroplan points - but you can get the evening flight back from Tel Aviv. The hassle is dealing with U.S. customs - including checking back through in Philadelphia.